January 26th, 2008

Naming Rights May Provide Districts With Funding

By Lana F. Flowers
Morning News (Northwest AR)

Money Could Be Driving Force In Future Of Area Schools

Picture the Tyson Chick ‘N Quick Rogers Mountaineers Stadium.

Or the Arvest Bank Heritage High School basketball scoreboard.

How about the McDonald’s Blackhawk Stadium in Pea Ridge?

Those are signs that could dot Northwest Arkansas prep sports fans’ futures, if local school districts go ahead with plans to sell naming rights for athletic facilities.

Mark Holderbaum, Rogers athletic director, first broached the naming rights idea at a Nov. 8 School Board work session.

He also proposed forming an athletic foundation to work with booster clubs to raise money to support sports, which will need twice as many uniforms, facilities and funding when Heritage High School opens in August.

The foundation in turn would hire a professional fundraiser to solicit donations, including, perhaps, giving naming rights to those who make large contributions.

The naming rights proposal has not gained steam. The School Board has not discussed naming rights, the professional fundraiser or the athletic foundation since the November meeting.

It’s premature to discuss naming rights again without having formed an athletic foundation, said Cathy Allen, board member.

In addition, she noted district officials typically name buildings for longtime educators or community leaders, not for those who give the most money.

People in the past sent letters to board members or school administrators to remind them of the history of a location or contribution of a person, and suggested a building name based on those factors, Allen said.

Naming rights have not been a pressing issue in Rogers, said Kristen Cobbs, board member.

However, it’s an issue she’s willing to pursue when it’s time to erect signs, scoreboards and other materials at the football stadium under construction at Rogers High School and the new gyms at Heritage High School, Cobbs said.

“I think if it is not an obscene amount of signage, I think giving recognition to a corporation who donates money is OK,” Cobbs said.

Pea Ridge school officials might agree with Cobbs. Mark Laster, Blackhawks football coach, approached the Pea Ridge School Board in January about raising money to build a $2.7 million football stadium, fieldhouse and adding parking lots adjacent to the high school.

It’s unlikely the board would ask voters to increase property taxes, said Mike Van Dyke, Pea Ridge superintendent. Voters tend to defeat millage questions when they include athletic facilities, he said.

Selling naming rights would raise money to pay for the stadium, the fieldhouse, the press box, scoreboards and concession stands, Laster said.

He’ll approach the School Board again in February.

Commercial Alert, a nonprofit lobbying group based in Washington, D.C., is opposed to permeating schools with corporate sponsorships, naming rights and advertisements.

“Corporations have seized upon the schools as a way to corral a captive audience of impressionable children for the purpose of advertising and market research. Schools exist to teach children how to read, write and think—not to shop,” reads a statement on the group’s Web site.

Commercial Alert is not opposed to corporations donating money or services to schools, said Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert.

The organization opposes donations with strings attached, such as buying naming rights to school buildings and stadiums, Weissman said.

“It’s not a gift from the point of view of the company. It’s a purchase” of advertising, Weissman said.

“It’s not just to get their name out there, it is to associate themselves with the positive values of school and community without any due regard for the proper division between school, community and the commercial sector,” Weissman continued.

Schools which sell naming rights permit the corporation and its values to permeate the school halls and students’ minds, Weissman said.

“Schools, which are where kids spend a large amount of their waking hours, should be, to the extent possible, a bastion free of these kinds of commercial influences,” he said.

Students in Forney, Texas, a suburb about 20 miles east of Dallas, see City Bank signs on the Forney stadium.

The Forney Independent School District sold naming rights in 2003 to build an $8 million football stadium. City Bank, based in Lubbock, Texas, paid $1.5 million for those rights.

“Their name is on the stadium. We have the jumbo screen that has their logo on top of it,” said Jennie Moore, director of communications for the Forney district.

The district has about 7,000 students. They, their parents and opposing fans see the City Bank signs at every football game.

“Even though Lubbock is the City Bank headquarters, they have a very strong branch here (in Forney) and are a good school partner,” Moore said.

She didn’t work in the Forney district when the naming rights were sold and did not know if City Bank considered donating the $1.5 million without getting advertising inside the stadium.

At A Glance

What’s In A Name?

“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.”—Proverbs 22, Verse 1.

A brief history of the people behind Rogers schools’ names:

* Gary “Blackie” Bond: Fieldhouse at Rogers Heritage High School. Bond was a coach for 32 years.

* David Gates: Gates Stadium at Heritage High. Gates moved to Arkansas with Daisy Manufacturing and served on the Rogers School Board, helped establish the Rogers Activity Center and was instrumental in establishing the Daisy Museum.

* Bonnie Grimes: Elementary school. She was a teacher, principal and elementary curriculum coordinator.

* J.W. “Bill” Grimes: Technical education building at Heritage High. Grimes taught vocational agriculture, was an assistant principal, principal and technical education director.

* Grace Hill: Elementary school. She was a teacher, principal and an elementary curriculum coordinator.

* Russell Jones: Elementary school. He was a longtime math teacher, principal and assistant superintendent.

* W.E. “Bill” King: Gym at Rogers High School. King was an assistant principal and longtime principal at Rogers High School.

* Birch Kirksey: Middle school. He was a superintendent in the 1940s and 1950s.

* Greer Lingle: Middle school. Lingle was district superintendent for 27 years.

* Joe Mathias: Elementary school. He was an assistant superintendent for secondary education.

* Frank Tillery: Elementary school. Tillery was a coach, principal and superintendent.

* Mary Sue and Betty Lynn Reagan: Elementary school. Mary Sue taught American history at Rogers High School starting in 1943. Betty Lynn taught world history and American government at the high School.

* Elza Tucker: Lowell elementary/middle school. He was a postmaster and has been a longtime Lowell community volunteer.

* Leigh Worthington: auditorium at Heritage High. She was a teacher.

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